On September 26, the Syrian Foreign Minister Waleed Muallem said that the Syrian Kurds' demands for autonomy could be put to discussion.
“(Syrian Kurds) want a form of autonomy within the framework of the borders of the state” Mr Muallem said, adding: “this is negotiable and can be the subject of dialogue.”
Such a stance by a senior Syrian official is widely seen as a demonstration of flexibility by the central government that during the past years of war, now in its sixth year, stood up and saved unity of the state at any cost.
That the Syrian foreign minister as a top state official made such comments on the Syrian Kurds status and opened the doors to dialogue can be driven by several significant factors justifying the Damascus motivation behind walking relatively in line with the Kurds of the country.
Over the years of fighting against ISIS and other takfiri terrorist groups, the Syrian Kurds took an effective role. They firmly resisted a major assault of ISIS terrorist against mainly-Kurdish populated areas of northern Syria.
Therfore, the government appears to prefer to make use of the high potentials of these forces to solve the crisis instead of confronting them, even if this approach costs Damascus leaders granting the Kurds autonomy within border of a united Syria.
The new posture is coming while the Kurds of Syria have been ruling the north, mainly a Kurdish-inhabited part of the country, with own authority based on a federal system. Last month, the Kurdish region of Iraq held its independence referendum after a controversial breakaway campaign. Perhaps the Syrian leaders think that if they make no concessions and arrange a compromise with the Kurds, they might expect the same thing happened to Iraq’s Kurdistan. So they decided to consider going to the negotiating table instead of taking a confrontational course, something helping them save the Kurdish potentials within the national borders.
Having in mind that the Syrian Kurds' issue is tied to interests of neighbors of Syria, it is far from being solely internal, rather it has regional aspects. Syrian Kurdish regions share borders with the predominantly-Kurdish parts of the neighboring Turkey, something automatically raising the level of influence received by the Turkey’s Kurds from the Syrian Kurds. This was apparently confirmed last week when the Syrian Kurds during a celebration of Raqqa seizure raised huge poster of Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) terrorist organization who has been in Turkish prison on the island of Imrali since1999.
The Turkish leaders show high sensitivity to the northern Syria developments. In fact, it is this sensitivity that provided the main driving force for Turkey’s intervention in Syria, mainly marked by the last year’s Operation Euphrates Shield, the ongoing Idlib offensive, and also possibly prospective operation in Afrin canton, one of the three cantons autonomously administered by the Kurds, though it is yet to be connected to the other two, Kobani and Island.
The Turkish authorities over and over asserted that they will never approve of a Kurdish government next to their borders in northern Syria and Iraq. They did not stop short of empty warnings. Turkey’s air force fighter jets every now and then carry out air raids on the Kurdish positions on the other sides of the border. The Turkish army is now surrounding three sides of Afrin as military activity in border regions is boosted in preparation for an operation to disconnect the Kurds in other two cantons to Afrin that can provide first segment of a bridge for the Kurds to the Mediterranean coasts. Access to the Mediterranean will effectively improve the strategic position of the Kurdish-eyed independent Kurdistan.
However, the Syrian government is sensitive to its relations with Turkey and will have two key drives for negotiations with the Kurds. First, the Kurdish challenge remains of priority to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. This challenge, in fact, triggered the Turkish military intervention in Syria. So, settling the Kurdish problem and consequently granting them constitutional autonomy will distance possibility of more Turkish military operations in the north in the future. Second, peaceful solution to the problem will, to some extent, help ease the Turkish leaders' concerns about danger of rise of a Kurdish state in their neighborhood which can provoke Turkey’s Kurds into seeking the same status. Anyway, granting autonomy to the Kurds in return for some concessions to the central government like border, customs, and port control handover to Damascus as well as allowing merger of the Kurdish militias with a federal police force can fairly comfort Turkey.
The Syrian Kurds, specifically the YPG, during the conflict received training and arms from the US. On the other side, the pro-Damascus Axis of Resistance played a game-changing role and paid high costs all to ensure the Syrian integrity.
Under these conditions, the Kurdish issue is the main pretext to the American Syria intervention. If negotiations are started and concluded in an agreement within framework of the Syrian national law, Washington will be stripped of excuses for presence in the conflict-hit country. This means that more American intervention will look to the world even more illegal than now.
On the other side, if Damascus meets their demands, the Syrian Kurds, seeing the US decline to keep promise of support to the Iraqi Kurds with their fight for independence, will lean to the central government. By moving towards Damascus, they on the one hand will receive what they want and on the other hand will keep away the risks of the Turkish airstrikes and direct ground intervention.
As a conclusion, it appears that Mr Muallem's remarks are aimed at meeting two goals: One, checking regional and international intervention in the Syrian future, and the other avoiding potential tensions between the central government and the Kurdish forces.